Thursday, July 07, 2011

Bill Bryson: At Home (maybe also Made In America)

My husband gave me this for our wedding anniversary on the 15th of June,  and I didn't read it at first because I thought I'd save it, and reward myself with it after finishing all the blog posts that are waiting - but what the hell. Just a quickie then.

Bill Bryson writes this while living in what used to be a rectory, built during the Victorian era for a mr Marsham, one of those many English vicars for whom a prosperous style of life was about to change. Struck by idiosyncrasies of the building he decides to write a book about our homes - where, after all, most of history takes place even though no-one sings about it. When did our rooms begin to get their functions? Why do we have salt and pepper on the table? How dark was it before electricity? (Pretty damn dark is the answer.) The idea is great. Wandering through the hall you get a history of the hall going from the ONLY room of the house where EVERYTHING happens to a mere passageway. It's tremendously entertaining and educational in a strokey-beard did-you-know way. If I could only remember things I read I'd be full of Fascinating Facts by now - as it is my brain hasn't even retained the famous name of the man who engineered the Crystal Palace oh it did actually: Paxton. All is not hopeless. Mostly I remember disgusting anecdotes about rats and filth. The mind doth dwell on that which it is full of, I suppose.

My quibble is that it isn't, really, distinctive enough from Bryson's other works in the same vein. Admittedly, I haven't actually read A Short History of  Nearly Everything, but I understand that I am not wrong in making presumptions about it. I have read Made in America, but apparently not written about it, since a search gives me nothing. What the hell am I playing at with this blog??? One wonders. Anyway, I have read Made In America which taught me lots of interesting things about American history and words. And my point is that the anecdotes tend to be of the same type. Not that I'm not entertained, but while Made In America does stick to the history of American words and thus does what it says on the box, there is actually not enough home for me in At Home for it to have, in my opinion, fullfilled all promises. The anecdotes to digress a little too much. But who's quibbling, I certainly am not really. I'm not the editor. I was amused and learnt a little and am happy. Go Team Bryson!

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